At one point in Don Mancini’s Seed of Chucky (2004), Jennifer Tilly’s personal assistant warns her that she’ll go to hell if she sleeps with a director to get a part, whereupon Miss Tilly counters, “Hell would be ending up on Celebrity Fear Factor in a worm-eating contest with Anna Nicole Smith.” Bob Dolman’s How to Eat Fried Worms pretty nearly qualifies as the pre-pubescent version of that idea. It’s also one of the most amateurish essays in excruciating tedium I’ve encountered in a year that’s hardly lacked for tedium.
The film is based on a 1972 children’s book of the same name by Thomas Rockwell (son of painter Norman Rockwell). The word “classic” has been attached to the literary original — whether truly earned, or simply because the book was taken up by teachers as required reading for their young charges, I can’t say. If this film version is any indication of the book’s actual quality, I lean toward the latter classification.
Put simply, it’s exactly the kind of story one might expect from the son of Norman Rockwell — an image of childhood with a very tenuous relation to reality. It’s a view of childhood that comforts adults, and is given a pseudo-edgy hook for the kids in the gross-out value of its worm-eating premise. That alone may put the concept over with boys in the 7-to-10-year-old age range, but it’s hardly enough to support a feature length film — especially this feature length film.
The premise has unhappy new-kid-in-school Billy (Luke Benward, Because of Winn-Dixie) earning the wrath of school bully Joe (Adam Hicks, The Shaggy Dog), which results in the wiggler-ingesting amusement of the title. Billy unwisely claims to love eating worms, and is goaded into betting that he can eat 10 of the things. For maximum gross-out value, the worms are prepared in various repellent ways by Joe’s decidedly sub-James Beard toadies. Although the film thinks there’s more to it than this — it’s supposed to be a tale about the evils of bullies and how bullies are created — that’s really about all there is to it.
Adults are reduced to a parade of imbecilic caricatures, serving little function beyond padding the movie to feature length. It doesn’t help matters that Worms‘ adult cast consists entirely of what can be charitably called B-list actors. The performances are all broad and more suited to TV sketch comedy than a movie.
Screenwriter-director Bob Dolman loads the film with bogus energy and a seemingly endless array of bland and uninteresting imagery, which he smothers in an annoying musical score by Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh. There may be a built-in audience for Worms, though I suspect that it will score mostly with school groups and kids out for a little extra credit. Even they may find it alarmingly cheap and cheesy — and worst of all, dull. Rated PG for mild bullying and some crude humor.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke